Although the sun is our nearest star, we certainly don't have it all figured out.
Take, for example, that last week or so - the sun's disk has been mostly sunspot-free and the X-ray output of the sun has plummeted since the beginning of July. This is in stark contrast to all the fireworks in the first few months of 2014.
To make the whole matter even more confusing, the sun should be at its peak activity, but just one look at the various images from solar observatories show a quiescent, blank solar disk, save for one sunspot (as of July 22). What's going on?
The best answer is: we don't really know. However, that doesn't come as a surprise to many solar scientists.
PHOTOS: The Psychedelic Anatomy of a Solar Flare
"It is weird, but it's not super weird," Tony Phillips, NASA solar physicist and author of SpaceWeather.com, told the LA Times. "To have a spotless day during solar maximum is odd, but then again, this solar maximum we are in has been very wimpy."
The sun experiences 11-year cycles of activity. At its peak - known as "solar maximum" - the sun becomes a broiling mess of magnetism; huge arcs of magnetized plasma erupt from the surface, creating intense active regions. These regions peel back the hot chromosphere and photosphere (at the base of the sun's multimillion degree corona), exposing the cooler plasma below. The contrast in temperature creates dark spots across the surface known as sunspots. The active regions are often the triggering points for explosive events like coronal mass ejections and solar flares - events that can impact Earth in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.